Why Spiders Are Scarier Than Zombies

I’ve been called out on Facebook. I believe that in the event of a zombie apocalypse, I would do pretty well. I’m in pretty good physical condition, I know quite a bit about the undead, and I have access to both weaponry and survival equipment like a portable water filter. This claim, however, has been challenged and as part of that challenge, my friend posted this image in response:

Okay. Look. Let’s clear up a few things. First, yes, I’m afraid of spiders. Despite this fear, I still believe I could face down the undead in combat. There are many reasons why it’s both reasonable to be afraid of spiders while believing one is capable of facing a zombie. Here is my rebuttal, in a convenient list form:

  1. Spiders have eight legs. Zombies have two (or fewer). This is basic math.
  2. Zombies are slow (we’re talking Romero zombies here, 28 Days Later-style infected don’t count). Have you ever seen a pissed off tarantula move? Try blowing on one and see how long it takes for it to attach itself to your face. The answer is: 0.2 seconds before you run away screaming “JESUS FUCKING CHRIST, IT’S ON MY FACE!”
  3. Zombies are much larger targets and thus easier to shoot. Only a few species of spider, like the terrifying goliath bird-eater, are large enough to be vulnerable to handgun fire.
  4. Zombies are stupid and just wander towards you when they see you. Spiders . . . spiders wait. They watch. They plan. And they strike when you least expect it . . . and get inside your shirt.
  5. Zombies don’t spin webs that you can walk into so that you are distracted by trying to pull the web strands off your skin while they go right for your ear holes.
  6. Zombies can’t drop down into your hair when you walk under a tree nor descend onto your face while dangling on a strand of webbing. Spiders are silent and stealthy killers, like ninja.
  7. If there’s a zombie in your sleeping bag, you’ll know about it long before you get into that sleeping bag. If there is a spider in your sleeping bag, you will not know until it’s too late.
  8. Both zombies and spiders can bite you, but a zombie bite ends stops being scary after you become a zombie yourself. A victim of a spider bite gets to watch in perpetual horror as your fucking skin rots away.
  9. Zombies don’t carry millions of baby zombies on their backs, nor do they explode in a carpet of tiny baby zombies when inadvertently stepped on.
  10. We always have a chance of stopping the zombie apocalypse and ending the zombie threat. In terms of sheer numbers, we have already ceded our planet to our arachnid overlords.

There you have it. Ten reasons why spiders are a greater, more terrifying threat than even the worst zombie apocalypse.

Of course, if the zombies manage to cross the species barrier and start turning things other than humans into zombies, we’re totally screwed. Because there is absolutely nothing more vile, horrific, and ball-shrinkingly terrifying than . . .

zombie_spider

ZOMBIE SPIDER JESUS CHRIST RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!!!!!

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A Vegetarian Perspective On The Ethical Carnivore

I’ve been a vegetarian for about seven years. It started as an experiment, something that “just to see if I could.” The experiment was predicated by the reading I was doing at the time; my interest in philosophy (which would ultimately become my minor during my undergrad) led to reading several books on the ethics of food. Peter Singer’s work was the most influential on me.

I won’t go into my reasons for not eating meat beyond that: for me, it’s a point of philosophical consideration and what I perceive to be my own personal ethical imperative. It’s important for me to point out that I don’t feel the need to force the world to follow my own philosophical and ethical models. In fact, the only reasons I’ll ever talk about my vegetarianism (aside from on my blog, where I can talk about whatever I damn well please) is because somebody asks or because it’s polite to inform others of one’s dietary restrictions should you be planning a dinner or food-related social engagement. Usually, the latter reason leads to the former as people inevitably ask questions, usually of the “wow, what’s that like” variety.

Personally, I don’t really care what foods others are sticking in their respective pie-holes. My choices work for me and my innate iconoclastic tendency means I can understand why a person would get upset by being told not to eat the foods he or she wishes to eat.

However.

There’s an unfortunate side-effect of the fact that the vegetarians, vegans, and other animal-rights folks are the most vocal supporters of food ethics. The side-effect is a sort of “rejection by association.” Basically, if a person decides that he or she hates those preachy vegetarians and vegans, or thinks they are all liberal fruitcakes, or feminist gender traitors, or whatever, that person is going to dismiss the idea of food ethics out of hand. And that is something that I think is wrong.

Here’s a great introduction to food ethics that doesn’t come packaged with a “vegetarianism is great” side dish.

To wit, I don’t care if you eat meat. It’s your choice. But I do think that you have, or at least you should have, the same moral imperative to reduce suffering in the world. This is my basic humanitarian ethic that I think all people, regardless of background, should work to uphold.

So, go ahead and eat meat! Eat a delicious steak. Have two. But do so recognizing that not all steaks were created equally. A steak that came from a factory farm created much more suffering in the world than the steak that came from your local farmer’s market.

This is why I’ve said the decision to eat meat is a philosophical one. The attitude you have with regards to your food matters. If meat is consumed in a serious, sober manner, if it is done with respect to the cost to the life that was taken, you are justified in my book. If you raise your own animals or if you hunt and butcher your own animals or if you take the time and effort to research which companies produce meat with minimal suffering, you have my support. You are meeting this basic ethical imperative.

Be a carnivore if you wish. Just be an ethical one. No, more than that; realize that this is all part of the consideration that goes into being an ethical person. I think ethics are something that have fallen out of the social consciousness; we’ve replaced ethics with religion in most circles, which aren’t the same thing in the slightest.

Really, Mark, What Did You Think Was Going To Happen Here?

Mark Kessler is the chief of police in the small Pennsylvania town of Gilberton. He achieved national attention by posting reasonable and thought provoking discussions on YouTube about what he perceives as the erosion of Second Amendment rights.

No, wait, that doesn’t sound right.

Let’s try this again.

Mark Kessler was the chief of police until he decided to make an Internet Tough Guy video that was little more than a profanity-laden rant against “libtards.” He then proceeds to fire a lot of guns at things. Because nothing indicates “responsible public servant” and “reasonable political discussion” like shooting guns in a YouTube video and swearing a lot.

Because his actions brought shame on his one-officer department, he was forced to ask himself to resign due to conduct unbecoming of a police officer. He was later heard to be shouting at himself and angrily slammed his badge down on his own desk before storming out of the building, only to return a moment later to file the paperwork to terminate himself.

The cute part is how in his videos, he thinks anybody who’s upset with him is upset because he uses profanity, which is fucking hilarious. Here’s the truth, Police Chief Kessler, we libtards out there aren’t worried about your fucking language. Honestly, we’re not even worried about you, because:

a. You’re making a great case for why mentally unstable individuals should not be allowed to have guns . . . or be employed by as police . . . or be allowed to be chief of police . . . or be allowed to have a computer . . . or be allowed to have an Internet connection . . . or be allowed to have access to YouTube and a camera.

b. You get to be the poster boy for your side of the gun control argument now.

Congratulations! Because, you know, there’s nothing I’m more afraid of than a terrifyingly-angry man with a camera, a command of the word “fuck”, and a lot of guns.

Oh wait. Actually . . .

There’s one thing I’m more afraid of. If I’m honest with myself, this is what I consider to be a real fucking nightmare scenario for supporters of gun control: a person who argues against gun control with a reasonable presentation of his position, statistical evidence supporting his claim, and convincing rhetorical skill outlining his argument. Thinking about that guy? That’s the shit that keeps me up at night.

Fortunately for me, Kessler’s videos have gained hundreds of thousands of views, which means that the poor guys who are out there making reasonable arguments on his behalf are getting ignored.

Well done, sir. Well done.

Thoughts On Boxing

About three months ago, I made the decision to get back into serious working out to get in better shape. This realization was predicated both by the horrifying experience of seeing pictures of myself and realizing I wasn’t quite as thin as I used to be and realizing that the combination of “sedentary job + sedentary hobbies + majority of my 20’s behind me” was starting to equal a slide into squishy-ville.

My first effort was the usual effort I think we all make when we experience this realization. Grab the trusty water bottle and hoof it down to the gym, or in my case, the little exercise room in my apartment complex. Such efforts always last for about a week before I get bored and quit.

However, due to some other life events, this time I was resolved to really get serious about this effort. I needed something to keep my interest level up.

In my teenage years, I was really into karate; I trained for about five years before the combination of moving away from home and going to college made continuing unfeasible. I never did get my black belt, which is one of those things I mildly regret, because telling people “yeah, I have a red belt” isn’t nearly as impressive.

I decided getting back into something martial was a good way to keep from getting bored. Also, it solved my self-motivation problem. I’ll be totally honest here; when I’m working out on my own, I’ll go hard right up until I hit that first mental wall. Then I’ll coast. The problem is, of course, that it’s working through those mental-walls that really get you in shape. I only manage to do that when someone is yelling at me, it seems.

I asked my brother for advice since he does amateur mixed martial arts, which never sounded impressive to me until the first time I watched him fight and realized my little brother could thoroughly kick my ass. He suggested I start boxing at the same gym where he was training.

It’s been about three months now. I’ve dropped about eight pounds, which doesn’t sound like a lot but considering that I managed to do it without going on any kind of diet (still drinking beer, woo), I think that’s pretty good. I’ve also learned quite a bit in these past three months and I’d like to share some of those thoughts.

I wasn’t sure what to expect the first time I walked into a boxing gym. My background was a karate dojo, which meant everybody was barefoot, everybody wore a gi, everybody had a belt showing their level of ass-kicking ability, everybody bowed before entering the floor, everybody called the instructor “sir.”

In contrast, the boxing gym was filled with a motley collection of individuals. There were tattoos. There was swearing. The smell of sweat was omnipresent. Nobody bowed to one another or to enter the mat. You couldn’t tell the experts from the newbies, at least not until you saw them grab their gloves and get to work. Then you could tell very quickly. But at a glance? Impossible to say.

Looking back, I wonder about those things. I know that at the time, I loved that stuff: the belts, the uniforms, the patches. It appealed to the video game nerd in me to test for a belt, as though I was leveling up. It felt cool to learn “advanced techniques” that couldn’t be handled by a lesser color belt.

I know that, at the time, I looked down on boxing as a martial art. Boxing was so stupid, I thought. What kind of fighter only uses his hands? You have feet! Feet are very powerful! Seriously, my kicks were crazy strong; once, I knocked my friend on his ass while he was holding a bag for me.

I could try to explain the difference in my thought process now, but I’d rather share it with an anecdotal comparison:

  • Karate instructor: Today, you’re going to learn the jump spinning crescent kick.
  • Boxing instructor: Today, you’re going to get punched in the head until you learn how to duck.

Boxing lacks all the elegance and style of karate. There is no ceremony, there is no uniform, and there are no rituals. You walk in, you grab a jump rope, you get moving. You throw a medicine ball until you want to throw up. You practice punching. A lot of punching.

Seriously, there are exactly five different punches. Their names are the jab, the cross, the hook, the uppercut, and the-hook-with-your-other-hand (that’s my best guess, usually the instructor just shouts out “five” and we know what to do). That’s all. I learned the entire move list on my first day.

And then you practice those five punches until they’re perfect. You practice until you can snap off a crisp, clean jab a hundred times in a row. And then you go for two hundred. Five hundred. A thousand.

I’m not saying boxing is a superior fighting style to any other. There were guys at my karate dojo that were fast, focused, and likely very good fighters. I’m not even denigrating my younger self for liking what I liked. It was important to me. It helped me develop a lot of confidence. I know that if 14-year old me had walked into the gym I’m at now, I would have taken one look at the posters of old pay-per-view fights and the general motley-ness of the place and said, “yeah, no.”

But there were things in my karate training that I was missing. I never really got to feel what it was like to get hit. Even sparring was always “50% speed, 50% power.” If I ever took a crack to the head, it was accidental.

It’s been only three months. In those three months, I’ve been hit in the face and pushed beyond the limits of exhaustion more times that I’d care to admit. And I know that for all my efforts, I’m never going to get a cool belt. Anybody who joins the class won’t know by glancing at me whether I’ve been there for five years or five weeks. But you know what? I feel good. I feel stronger than I have in a very long time.

Most importantly, I’m starting to feel like a fighter.

Weirdest Of The Weird: Adventures In Search Engine Terms

One of the neat features that WordPress offers is its ability to track what search terms are leading people to your blog. Ideally, this information will show you which of your topics are generating more traffic and allow you to tailor your content to your audience. That’s pretty interesting.

Even more interesting, however, is seeing what sorts of freaky shit people are entering in their Google searches that are resolving to my blog. Some of it makes sense to me. My post about Tauriel, for example, generated a lot of variations of the phrase “who the hell is Tauriel?”

A lot of these results, however, just have me tilting my head to one side like a dog with an expression of “how the fuck, I don’t even.” Here are some of the (weirdest) highlights. This list is rather NSFW, which should be obvious based on the subject matter:

  • draenei male fucks night elf female
  • lara croft 2013 hot
  • primal zergling
  • sylvia browne sucks
  • what to do if black mamba bites u
  • i think god is trying to tell me we are meant to be
  • principal skinner gun cock
  • aging liberals have more sex
  • changing legs on mamba
  • captain kirk hates communism
  • catholics are cynical
  • cynical people are smart
  • scrotum length happiness
  • fighting in skin tight clothes
  • i am ready for reporting tomorrow
  • harry potter aayla secura fanfiction
  • necrophilia snakes
  • animals boning

I have to imagine there are some incredibly disappointed necrophiliacs and zoophiliacs out there who arrived at my blog and cursed my name after realizing they’d be led astray. For the record, my personal favorite is “captain kirk hates communism,” if only because,I absolutely cannot figure out how that phrase connects to anything I’ve written.

Stay weird, Internet. Seriously, don’t ever change.

My Take On The 10 Most Memorable D&D Monsters

I started playing Dungeons & Dragons around 1998 or so, which means I came in during the end of Second Edition. Due to the myriad ways Second Edition defied logical (THACO, I’m looking at you), it never really became more than a passing thing for me until several years later when I joined a group of players that I met through one of my college roommates. The rest, of course, is history; I started running my own games after that and continue to do so to this very day.

IO9 recently put out a list of the 10 most memorable monsters in Dungeons & Dragons. Since, at this point in my gaming career, I’ve DMed for twice as many campaigns as I’ve actually played in, I thought I’d take a look and give my opinion on these monsters.

One thing I learned early in my DMing career was that monsters are, in some ways, the DM’s version of the new spells and powers that the player characters acquire. I found myself buying books with new dragons or whatever so I could see what shiny new things I could throw at my players. I would look forward to unleashing a cool monster the way a player looked forward to unleashing a big spell. The fact that my cool monsters almost always died wasn’t the point; as a writer, I know the villain’s place and role in the story. Survival wasn’t the point. The goal of a good monster was to get the emotional reaction from the players: at first, fear and “oh god, we’re going to die” and then excitement as they manage to overcome the threat.

Anyway, let’s look at the list:

  1. The Beholder: I’m not sure I would have put the Beholder in the top slot, but there’s no denying that these guys are both iconic and effective. There’s just something about the Eye Tyrant that inspires fear among players; maybe it has something to do with their ability to fire disintegration beams from their eyes. I’ve never really used a beholder in a main villain capacity, but the few times I have unleashed one, the party was certainly considered. Come to think of it, I have that set of Beholder figurines I’ve never really used in a game before. Hmm…
  2. The Displacer Beast: Here’s my first disagreement. I’m not sure I’ve ever actually used a displacer beast in a game before. If I have, it certainly wasn’t iconic enough to mention. They’re annoying to fight with their ability to shift around, but at the end of the day, it’s still just a big cat with tentacles. Not quite as impressive as some of the other beasties on this list, in my opinion. Admittedly, they are probably the most iconic opponent a low-level party will face which might be one reason to include them. Still, in my opinion, these guys aren’t worth the number two slot.
  3. The Mimic: It’s a monster that pretends to be a piece of furniture, usually a treasure chest, because every DM knows that players are greedy and there’s nothing better than punishing greed with getting devoured. Mimics are amusing, but like the the displacer beast above, I’m not sure they deserve to be this high on the list. Even at low levels, I think there’s another “screw you” monster out there that makes even savvy players shiver, and it’s next on the list.
  4. The Rust Monster: Now we’re talking. Basically, it’s a big bug that rusts metal. It’s probably the least dangerous monster on this list, except for one thing: it rusts and eats metal. Any metal. Yes, including the ancient coldforged sword of your ancestors and your masterwork plate armor. I had a player who was playing a fearless crusader run away from a battle against one of these guys. Those are some of the moments that make DMing worth it. I love these guys, because they create a threat that the players take seriously but aren’t incredibly lethal and potentially disruptive to the story itself.
  5. The Gelatinous Cube: Sure, it’s basically a living cube of acidic gelatin, but there’s one thing the IO9 list doesn’t mention: the gelatinous cube is transparent and nearly invisible in dark places. They’re the perfect monster for ratcheting up the paranoia factor, especially if the unlucky player discovers the cube’s presence by walking facefirst into it and getting engulfed. Good times.
  6. The Owlbear: Yes, it might be iconic, yes, even this list notes that they’re hilarious . . . but I really hate owlbears, for all the reasons listed in this comic. Owlbears remind me of the time earlier in D&D’s life cycle when you had really freaking strange monsters, like a carnivorous tree stump with a rabbit attached to its head to lure prey. I wish I was making that up, but I’m really not. No owlbear has ever appeared in one of my games and no player has ever asked, “hey, why aren’t there any owlbears in this game?”
  7. The Lich: Now we’re talking. Liches are awesome. They’re perfect for playing the arch-villain, but they’re just as useful as information brokers or other roles. As soon as one shows up, you know you’re dealing with the big leagues. In my opinion, these undead spellcasters deserve to be way higher than number 7. I might be a little biased since the final villain of my last campaign was a powerful lich, but regardless, these guys are intelligent, powerful, and dangerous. Best of all, they haven’t had their mystery and villainy peeled away, unlike what happened to vampires.
  8. The Drow: Here’s my number one pick. Easily. Drow are the ultimate bad guys. They manage to be murderously chaotic and yet maintain a rigid social structure and noble House system. They are stylish. They’re dangerous. I recall reading somewhere that game books and magazines that featured a drow on the cover would often sell better than other issues and I believe it. While they have suffered the same villain-decay as vampires due to so many players wanting to play Chaotic Good rebels, for me, there’s nothing better than the drow in their true, evil form. For those who are expecting the Drizzt clone character, unleashing a no-holds-barred evil drow is a satisfying experience. I’ve run one entire campaign focused on the drow . . . and don’t tell my players this, but I’ve got another one slowly growing in the back of my mind. The drow are my number one pick, hands-down.
  9. The Mind Flayer: I like these guys, but I think they’re a little too far on the fringe for most players. Sure, the idea of an alien squid monster that eats brains is scary, but I’ve also had the experience of telling the party “you see a mind flayer” and been given blank looks. I don’t think enough attention has been given to mind flayers to really elevate them in the ranks of liches, drow, and beholders . . . which is a shame, because these guys deserve to be in those ranks. In this case, I think number 9 is a good place for them on the list.
  10. The Tarrasque: The Tarrasque is the urban legend monster for a game that is focused on playing make-believe with your friends. Despite how often I’ve heard about the Tarrasque, I’ve never actually unleashed one, nor do I know any DMs that have done so. Regardless, the fact that they so tough and powerful means their presence can be felt just by mentioning their name, even by players that haven’t fought one; the Tarrasque might well be the inverse of the mind flayer in this regard. I think number 10 is a good place for the Tarrasque . . . and I’d like to note that I plan to use one at least once in my DMing career.

And that brings us to the end of the list. Overall, I think it’s a good one, aside from reshuffling some of the rankings and dropping owlbears entirely. I went back and forth in my mind on whether or not dragons deserved to be on the list. It’s tough to say, because on the one hand, dragons are always attention-grabbers when they show up in my campaigns. On the other hand, they’re all over the fantasy genre, so it might be tough to say how memorable they are. At the very least, I think the Red Dragon is scary enough to earn a spot on the list.

Oh, and the Pit Fiend. You can’t have a list of awesome monsters without mentioning the Pit Fiend. He definitely deserves to be on here.

So, let’s look at my revised list for the Top 10 most memorable monsters:

  1. The Drow
  2. The Lich
  3. The Beholder
  4. The Rust Monster
  5. The Red Dragon
  6. The Gelatinous Cube
  7. The Pit Fiend
  8. The Mimic
  9. The Mind Flayer
  10. The Tarrasque

What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Entirely confused about what I’m talking about? Feel free to share your thoughts.

Video Game Heroines In 2013: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Seems like 2013 was a pretty good year for video game heroines. We saw Lara Croft go from being the quintessential video game pin-up character to something resembling a real human woman. Compare:

laraoldandnew

What’s better about the new Lara Croft? Where to start? She’s wearing actual clothes. She’s wearing pants, which, you know, makes sense for an adventurer. Her proportions are realistic! There’s still a sexy vibe about the new Lara, but that’s not the point of her new character. Her design speaks to the kind of athleticism you’d expect from someone who goes on adventurers and climbs and hikes and all that. In short, while she may have sex appeal, she’s definitely not a sex object anymore.

I think this is a step in the right direction for video game heroines. It’s a sign of progress! We’re moving in the right direction, at long last. We’re finally recognizing that 45% of gamers (at least) don’t have a Y-chromosome. 2013 has been a great year in this regard!

And then this happened:

Meet Quiet, the new protagonist for the upcoming Metal Gear Solid 5:

quiet

Sigh.

Underwear? Check.

Prominently displayed cleavage? Check.

Impractically sexy clothing damage? Check.

I can’t think of anything else to say about her character based on this design. She has the same distant, snarky expression of the Lara Croft from the previous decade, the one that says, don’t worry, I won’t be ruining the sex appeal by showing any actual emotion like fear, anger, or determination.

True, this is only concept art and her actual personality might be very different in the final game. On the other hand, I think you can tell a lot by looking just at the concept art. Let’s compare Quiet to 2013 Lara.

laraquiet

Aside from the fact that she’s basically in her underwear, we can see that Quiet’s leggings are torn in several places. Is this supposed to suggest that she’s been through a harrowing survival experience? Maybe, but if so, the fact that everything else about her appearance is flawless suggests that actually, she just likes to wear leggings with big holes in them. She doesn’t look like a warrior. The gun-belt doesn’t communicate anything of the sort; if anything, it just sends the entire design further in male fantasy land. Chicks with guns + underwear = hot.

With the two character designs side by side, you can really see the difference. Lara looks like she’s been through a survival experience. She’s covered in dirt and grime, with several makeshift bandages here and there. Her clothes are torn, but not in a way that’s strategically sexy. Is she still unrealistically beautiful for someone in a life-and-death situation? Yes, absolutely. In “real life,” she’d likely be a lot worse off. But we’re talking about video game protagonists here; male and female alike are allowed to have the “attractive” attribute, as long as that’s not the primary attribute for the character. As soon as you have a character parading around in their lingerie instead of actual clothing, you’ve sacrificed characterization for sex appeal.

Because, let’s be honest: you know what’s really fucking useful when you’re fighting or surviving in the jungle?

POCKETS.

Pants have pockets on them. Hell, even shorts have them. You know what doesn’t have any pockets? Bikinis with ripped lingerie leggings. Huh, imagine that.

Basically, it comes down to the fact that when I look at Quiet, my first thought is “stripper.” When I look at Lara, my first thought is “survivor.” I’m not a woman, so I can’t say which character design would give me a feeling of female empowerment, but I do know which image is more heroic to me. I know which character I’d want my daughter to look up to.

Regardless of hypothetical scenarios, I know which kind of character I enjoy and appreciate more. Evidently, that taste isn’t mainstream yet. I thought we’d come further along than this. Alas.

A Post 9/11 World

I was a freshman in high school on September 11, 2001.

My generation has lived our entire adult lives in the shadow of that event and the world it created.

I don’t know what to say about that. I don’t really know another world than this one. It feels like things are getting worse. Are they? Trying to look back at history for comparisons doesn’t help. What was life like during the McCarthy era? What did it feel like to grow up during the Cold War? I have no idea.

I grew up in a world where the right to privacy has been revoked. Anything can be considered terrorism and anybody can be a terrorist and God help you if you are accused of terrorism, because as an enemy combatant, your rights are basically null and void.

On the other hand, I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about getting nuked. I suppose the possibility is still there but it seems like a much more remote threat. Before terrorists, there were communists. Anybody could be a communist. Did your rights get stripped away if you were accused of being a communist? I don’t have the historical context to say one way or another. I imagine it wasn’t good, though.

Maybe there’s nothing different about today. Same song, different dance.

Maybe we’re all just destined to move from one crisis to another. Maybe that’s the human condition.

One Word At A Time

After yesterday’s post, I spent the rest of my time thinking how do we fix this problem? Game culture, despite how tongue-in-cheek we might use the phrase, is a real thing now. It’s as real as popular culture in its ability to influence. We have cultural conventions now. We have cultural language.

It’s hard to describe how game culture came to be without resorting to dramatic, overblown language describing the strife that it emerged from. While the “violence in video games” discussion won’t ever truly disperse, I think we’ve come a long way from the days of Jack Thompson and his ilk. They’re not gone, of course, but for the moment, they’ve been defeated. Someone will be along eventually to take his place, but hopefully not for a while.

We won that round, at the low cost of developing a reflexive siege mentality that is one of the causes of the dickwolves thing I wrote about yesterday. We’ve traded one problem for another, which isn’t as cynical as you might think, because that’s basically how progress works. The only people who don’t have problems are dead. Dead people might have problems, too, that we just don’t know about.

So, you know, we’re doing okay, really.

Regardless of my inability to commit to a side on the dickwolves debacle, there are plenty of other instances of misogyny and rape culture in game culture itself. Nobody can rationally dispute that fact, regardless of where you come down on the dickwolves issue. The question we should all be asking ourselves is, as I said above, how do we fix this?

While I’d love to say I came upon the solution in a flash of brilliance, the truth is this was a comment made on yesterday’s dickwolves post. From my friend therationalpi:

Ya know, I used to say “rape” a lot. In videogame parlance, “rape” is just another way to say “beat on.” Like, instead of saying, “The red team really beat the blue team that game.” you might say “The red team really *raped* the blue team.” It’s a pretty common expression, that I used to use very casually.

Then I realized how much that word can bother people. For some people it brings up really negative memories and emotions. After realizing that, I stopped being so insensitive and slowly excised that word from my vocabulary. I never thought that actual rape was anything to joke about, but my vocabulary didn’t reflect that sentiment. So I changed my vocabulary.

This. This is how we start fixing things. Small changes. A piece at a time. I believe this will work, because this is exactly analogous to my own experience.

Confession time: I wasn’t always the male-feminist-ally-vegetarian-idealist that I style myself as today. I was a gamer a lot further back than I was any of those other things. I engaged in my share of smack-talk. I used the word “rape” in video games liberally and I used it as recently as 2005, when I was deep into the PvP scene in World of WarCraft.

I remember the first moment somebody called me out on using that word. It wasn’t much, just an admonishment that what I was saying was pretty insensitive. Because this admonishment came from a person that I admired and respected greatly and because it was done gently, it made me think. It made me reflect on the power of the words that I was using which was something I should have done all along. I was studying Creative Writing for my undergraduate degree; you’d think I would have been more sensitive to the power of certain words and their effects.

I realized what my words had the potential to do to another person and I changed my vocabulary. I stopped saying “rape” in the context of playing games. I don’t use it in any context other than its actual definition and even then, I use it carefully, knowing its potential harm.

It doesn’t take much to change your vocabulary. It’s a small change to start saying “yeah, we owned them” or “we pwned them” or any other permutation. Pwned is nice, albeit in an abomination-of-English-sort-of-way, because it’s a true “gamer word.” It’s part of the cultural lingo.

Why is “owned” acceptable when “raped” isn’t? Certainly, the idea of “owning” another person is offensive, if you really think about it. But that’s the thing about smack-talk in competition, isn’t it? You want it to be a little bit offensive. A polite taunt is no taunt at all. The trick is to find something that can make for good trash talk in a way that doesn’t bring up a real problem that people are dealing with and are dealing with in a culture that doesn’t treat their situation with the gravity it deserves.

Sure, “owning” is offensive. But it doesn’t trigger the same harm, in my opinion, the way the word rape does. I don’t know anybody in my life who has ever actually been “owned.” I know a few people that have been raped. I know that for those people, the former is just a word and the latter can trigger post-traumatic stress symptoms.

Choosing the word you uses matters. Telling somebody “hey, that’s not cool” isn’t always going to work. It might only work 1 time in 10, or maybe 1 in 20, or 1 in 100. But it did work for me, as it worked for my friend in the above quote.

It won’t fix the current game culture. But think about how many games of Call of Duty or Halo or StarCraft that you’re going to play in your lifetime. Think about how many times you will make the choice to either use the word “rape” without regard to its effect and thus perpetuate rape culture or choose a different word and enact a small amount of change.

It doesn’t cost much to make this change. It doesn’t take away the games we enjoy or the competition that brings out the trash-talk that’s so much a part of competitive game culture. It does, however, move things ever so slightly in a better direction.

That’s how change happens.

On A Very Certain Type Of Wolf

If you’re not immersed in “video game culture,” this post isn’t going to make any sense to you. That’s okay; honestly, you’re probably better off, because sometimes, video game culture gets pretty weird. This is one of those times.

I’ve never been shy about sharing my opinion on something. Generally, if I’m not writing about a particular topic, it’s because I haven’t researched the issue to the extent that I feel confident writing about it. Alternatively, it might be an issue that I don’t hold an opinion worth writing about either way. The health care discussion is one example of this; my opinion is cautious optimism, but I don’t argue strongly for it because it’s not a debate that I have anything new to say. There are other, more eloquent writers talking about it, so my response, if asked, would be to go read one of them.

However, sometimes there’s a topic that comes along that hits all the issues that I do care about and it seems like I should have something to say about it and I haven’t said anything. Feminism and gender issues are two of those particular issues. Video games are another.

If you’re still with me at this point, here’s your required reading to understand the Dickwolf controversy. I don’t even know how to distill it down to a paragraph at this point, but I’ll try. A comic strip that was created three years ago created a controversy that continues to this day. Its very mention is enough to create headlines on gaming news sites and blogs. Even mentioning it here makes me feel uneasy.

So why mention it at all? One reason is because of how much I’ve written about feminism already and how much I think about issues of gender equality. This is one of those issues that everybody is talking about. I should say something, right?

Except that I don’t know what to say.

It’s like watching your friends fight and it’s the kind of fight that you know is going to end the friendship between these two friends because of what’s been said. It’s the kind of argument where really hurtful things are said and it’s gone past the point of anybody really being “right,” although perhaps nobody was right to begin with. Worst of all, you can see both sides. You can understand where each one is coming from, even if you don’t necessarily agree with both sides.

In this case, one side is arguing for the freedom of speech to tell jokes without reprisal and they are defending this position. The other side is arguing that it’s not a freedom of speech issue and that’s an issue of making jokes about rape culture. The response is that the original joke wasn’t a rape joke and that the true “victims” of the joke were so-called heroes in MMORPGs, who are actually quite abominable themselves. And then came everything afterwards, when things got really messy.

So, what do I do? I feel very strongly about freedom of speech! I think the way rape is treated in our society is abominable!

And so we have this debacle. If I were to try to pinpoint where it all became so hopelessly entangled, I think it’s due to the various ideals that have been called in as part of the argument. Making it a freedom of speech issue is as problematic as making it a “rape culture” issue. It brings in a lot of material that creates a quagmire.

I don’t know. I guess I don’t have anything to say. I can see both sides. I won’t say who I am in agreement with, because people I respect and whose content I enjoy are on opposite sides of the issue. It feels like saying who I think is correct is like choosing between friends.

All I can really say is that I feel like I’ve failed both my ideals by existing in this sort of wishy-washy neutral ground. I feel like I should be supporting one side. There are a lot of wounded feelings all around. Standing on the sideline doesn’t feel right. But I don’t really know what to do.

And that’s where I’m at and why I haven’t written about it before. It’s not that I don’t care. I do care, very deeply, and I’ve followed the controversy since it began. I just didn’t know what to say then and I don’t know what to say now. The link, if you clicked it, gives you opinions from all the big names in game journalism and geek culture who have weighed in on this before me. You’ll find plenty to keep you busy.

As for me, I’ll just keep on watching, feeling like I should say something more substantial, but having no idea what that should be.